Mitch Perry, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 344

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

TECO official tells legislative panel it would cost ‘billions’ to bury power lines

After widespread power outages following Hurricane Irma, much of the public conversation has centered around the possibility of the electricity companies burying power lines underground.

That likely isn’t going to happen in Tampa, according to Gerry Chasse, vice president of electric delivery with Tampa Electric Company.

Speaking before the Senate Committee on Communications, Energy and Public Utilities on Tuesday, the TECO executive said that at a “very conservative” estimate of a million dollars a mile for burying six thousand miles, the total cost would amount to more than $6 billion.

“The annual cost to support that would be a billion dollars a year,” he added. And that’s compared to the current cost of $75 million a year.

“Those are some of the magnitudes of economic challenges we have when we talk about undergrounding,” he told Tampa Republican Dana Young, who said that she had been asked that question by her constituents following Irma blowing through the Tampa Bay region in September.

Like others familiar with its use, Chasse said undergrounding lines was “no panacea” when it came to maintaining power when a powerful storm comes through a service area. He said that was especially the case in the first few years that said power lines were under the ground.

When there are problems with the power lines, he said the fact that they are below the ground makes detecting problems harder to find and harder to replace and repair.

Once established, Chasse added that it also becomes more expensive to replace those lines after their natural life begins to erode at around 50 years.

“There’s pros and cons, no question,” he said.

Bryan Olnick, the vice president of distributions operations at Florida Power & Light, said his company trims over 15,000 miles of line annually, but Irma was “very challenging.” He did say the company was able to restore power to all of its 4.6 million customers after a week, compared to 18 days it took to bring everybody back online after Hurricane Wilma in October of 2005.

Jeremy Ring added $35K in Sept. to his campaign for CFO

Perhaps the sleepiest Cabinet campaign going into 2018 election is the choice for Chief Financial Officer.

Although current CFO Jimmy Patronis and Brandon Republican Tom Lee are expected to join the contest, they haven’t yet, leaving former Margate Democratic state Senator Jeremy Ring as the only candidate officially in the race.

Ring raised $35,184 in September, and has now raised a total of $159,372 since entering the contest in May.

There is a Republican now in the race. That would be Hollywood Republican Antoanet Iotova filed to run for the seat on September 5. She lost to Democrat Gary Farmer in the race for the state Senate District 34 last November, .

Iovota was arrested last fall and charged with two counts of grand theft. The South Florida-Sun Sentinel reported in January that an unsealed indictment revealed she and an associate were charged with conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, wire fraud and making false statements to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

Eight Florida mayors urge Congress to pass ‘Dreamer’ legislation

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and six other Florida mayors have signed a letter urging Congress to pass a bipartisan bill allowing so-called “Dreamers” to earn permanent legal status and (possibly) ultimately citizenship.

Members of the U.S. Conference of Mayors adopted a policy in June to support permanent legal status for Dreamers — undocumented immigrants entering the U.S. as minors and are covered under President Barck Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program.

Last month, the Trump administration said they would dismantle DACA in six months, but it had appeared that a deal had been stuck with Democratic congressional leaders just a few days later.

That deal now appears to be off the table after the Trump administration announced Sunday night a series of largely conservative policies that it wanted to be included in the final package. It includes funding for a border wall, preventing immigrants from sponsoring their extended families in moving legally to the US and limiting such green cards to spouses and children.

It also outlined the closing of “loopholes” that prevent the deportation of children who enter the country illegally.

“These findings outline reforms that must be included as part of any legislation addressing the status of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients,” Trump wrote in his letter to Congress.

“Because of the Trump Administration’s decision to terminate DACA in six months, this legislation must be passed as quickly as possible so that the benefits to Dreamers, to our cities, and to our nation can continue,” the mayors write in their letter to Congress. “It would remove Dreamers’ fears of deportation and allow them to contribute even more to the country they love, which for many is the only country they have known. They would be able to reach their full potential in many ways, including serving in the military.”

In addition to Dyer, other Florida mayors who have co-signed on the letter include Aventura Mayor Enid Weisman, Miami Gardens Mayor Oliver G. Gilbert III, Miramar Mayor Wayne M. Messam, Oakland Park Mayor John Adornato II from Oakland Park, Sunrise Mayor Michael J. Ryan, West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio and Weston Mayor Daniel Stermer.

Read the letter below:

Dear Members of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate:

We write on behalf of the nation’s mayors to urge you to quickly pass bipartisan legislation that would enable Dreamers — people who have lived in America since they were children and built their lives here — to earn lawful permanent residence and eventually American citizenship if they meet certain criteria. We pledge to work with you in this effort and to do whatever we can to assist you in seeing it enacted into law.

This June at the 85th annual meeting of The United States Conference of Mayors, we adopted strong policy supporting permanent legal status for Dreamers and extension of the DACA program. We did this because it is the right thing to do — for Dreamers, for our communities and for our country.

DACA has benefitted nearly 800,000 undocumented youth since it began in 2012. With work authorization and without the fear of deportation, these young people, who have done nothing illegal, have been able to participate in and contribute to our country, our cities and the nation’s economy: Eighty-seven percent of DACA recipients are employed by American businesses, and six percent have started their own businesses, leading to higher wages and better economic outcomes.

DACA recipients contribute 15.3 percent of their wages to taxes, which fund Social Security and Medicare, and DACA recipients are investing in assets like houses, and starting new businesses, bringing significant tax revenue to cities and states.

It is expected that DACA recipients will contribute $9.9 billion in tax contributions over the next four years, and at least $433.4 billion to our gross domestic product (GDP) over the next decade. There is broad public support for Dreamers.

— Seventy-six percent of Americans support citizenship or permanent status for Dreamers.

— Seventy-one percent of Americans feel undocumented immigrants working in the U.S. should be offered a chance to apply for legal status.

— Seventy-five percent of Americans who voted for the President support Dreamers.

Because of the Trump Administration’s decision to terminate DACA in six months, this legislation must be passed as quickly as possible so that the benefits to Dreamers, to our cities, and to our nation can continue. It would remove Dreamers’ fears of deportation and allow them to contribute even more to the country they love, which for many is the only country they have known. They would be able to reach their full potential in many ways, including serving in the military. The U.S. Conference of Mayors pledges to work with you to make this happen.

House committee advances bill to replace statue of Confederate general with that of Mary McLeod Bethune

A Florida House committee advanced legislation Tuesday that would replace a statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith with one of Mary McLeod Bethune in the National Statuary Hall in Washington, D.C.

The House Government Accountability Committee passed the proposal offered by Daytona Beach Democrat Patrick Henry (HB 139with just one dissenting vote (from Jacksonville Rep. Jay Fant).

Gov. Rick Scott signed legislation in March of 2016 to replace Smith’s statue, and the Senate voted earlier this year to support Bethune as the replacement, who was the choice of a committee of historians tasked with finding three potential replacements. But the House rejected McLeod Bethune, the top choice of the committee.

McLeod Bethune was the founder of Bethune-Cookman University and the first African-American woman to lead a federal agency, serving as director of the Division of Negro Affairs during President Franklin Roosevelt’s tenure.

“Miss Mary McCloud Bethune stood for civil rights, for the basic human rights that people we’re fighting for, for equality and fairness,” said St. Petersburg Democrat Wengay Newton. “I think she’ll be an excellent representation for the state.”

For years, Smith and air conditioning pioneer John Gorrie were Florida’s representatives in National Statuary Hall, as each state gets two such statues.

But the beginning of the end for Smith’s statue began in the summer of 2015 in the aftermath of Dylann Roof’s mass killing of nine parishioners at a Charleston, South Carolina, historic black church. When a photo surfaced of Roof with a Confederate flag, the momentum began to rid cities and states in the South to jettison Confederate monuments are other symbols of the Civil War.

“I think it’s important that everyone understand that we should never try to forget or erase our country’s shameful history, but we also need to not ever ever glorify it,” said Orlando Democrat Carlos Guillermo Smith, who said that Confederate statues belong in a museum.

Henry told the committee that Bethune-Cookman University has already agreed to pay to provide the statue, adding that she would be the first African-American in Statuary Hall.

Neil Combee, a conservative Republican from Lakeland, called McLeod Bethune “our little version of Mother Teresa” and said he was “sold” on voting to have her statue in Statuary Hall once he learned that she was a graduate of Moody Bible Institute, a Christian school.

The proposal has a number of other committees to go through in the House, and then needs an accompanying bill in the Senate before becoming law.

Advocates cite statistics to say poverty is being reduced in South St. Pete

The poverty rate for blacks has never been lower in St. Petersburg, with the decline four times greater than the black poverty rate across Florida.

That’s according to advocates working on that vexing issue, citing the latest U.S. Census data.

Officials with the Agenda 2020 plan say that the black poverty rate has dropped 17.3 percent in St. Pete since 2014, compared with just 4.1 percent across the entire state of Florida. And it’s also dropping more aggressively among St. Petersburg blacks compared to nonblacks, where it’s only been reduced by a little over one percent.

The 2020 plan was announced with great fanfare in 2014. It’s stated goal was to reduce the poverty rate by 30 percent in South St. Petersburg by the 2020 Census, and reduce it by 80 percent by 2045.

The 2020 coalition consists of the Pinellas County Urban League, the City of St. Petersburg, the Pinellas Opportunity Council, and over 100 corporate, government, funding and grassroots community organizations.

“It’s really people making up their minds to do things differently,” said Gypsy Gallardo, chief architect of the 2020 Plan, on how the poverty rate has decreased. Among those who she says who deserve credit is for innovative thinking in tackling the issue include the Pinellas County education community, the United Way, the St. Petersburg Chamber of Commerce and more corporations working with the city.

Gallardo also cited the rebound of the local job, a surge in college and technical school enrollment, and a rise in poverty reduction programs. In 2013, she said there was only one program in the area with a specific goal to help families exit poverty; now there are 12 different programs.

If the trend continues, it would reverse what a Tampa Bay Times study reported on in August, which said after more than $200 million spent since 1999 in the Midtown/Childs Park neighborhoods, the average household’s income has actually gone down when adjusted for inflation.

Since its inception, the 2020 Plan and its partners have raised $8.1 million through a combination of grants, private investment, and donations. Among those who have invested in the program include the United Way Suncoast, Mt. Zion Progressive, Pinellas Opportunity Council, Florida Blue Foundation, Allegheny Franciscan Ministries, Bon Secours, the Tampa Bay Rays, and Tampa Black Business Investment Corp, among others.

The release of the September U.S. Census numbers comes as St. Petersburg citizens are already voting in the mayoral election. Gallardo stresses that the evolution of the 2020 Plan preceded incumbent Rick Kriseman’s election, going back to 2009 to create a southside Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA).

“Both of them have taken proactive steps that now contribute to what we see here,” she says. “Baker did a lot to increase the number of elementary school students who were on track to receive college scholarships, which over the years has borne fruit in increased rates of college enrollment and graduation, ” said Gallardo.

Nevertheless, the plan took effect just as Kriseman was taking power, who had embraced it as one of his top five priorities. He weighed in on the new report on Monday, saying,” This is an incredible milestone for our city and an illustration of the kind of progress that is possible when we work together. However, it is important to note that we still have a lot of work to do. We are up for the job.”

Watson Haynes, CEO of the Urban League, and Carolyn King, Executive Director of Pinellas Opportunity Council, are scheduled to talk about the latest poverty statistics results of the 2020 plan Tuesday night at the Mt. Zion Progressive Baptist Church, followed by a dinner honoring 24 parents currently enrolled in one of the poverty-exit programs.

Residents, critics speak out on Tampa Bay Next ‘process’

Florida Department of Transportation officials call Tampa Bay Next a “process,” one in which more input from the public is always welcome.

That attitude is impressing some of the agency’s critics, after what was widely perceived as a heavy-handed approach with the now-defunct Tampa Bay Express project, the multibillion-dollar proposal that most prominently included adding express toll lanes to both Interstate 275 and Interstate 4.

On Monday afternoon, the FDOT held a workshop at the Tampa Marriott Westshore for public input on what is known as downtown Tampa interchange concepts. Officially, it’s part of the Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement (SEIS) process, set for all of 2018 and into 2019.

The process began in 1996 and needed updating, said Bill Jones, FDOT’s director of transportation and development.

“Nothing works in a vacuum, so we’re really making an effort from a regional standpoint to make sure that we look at things holistically,” he said, “whether that’s the type of transportation, whether that’s bicycle or pedestrian, transit, roadway, bridges and roads.”

“But also — how does that interact with the other parts of our network?” Jones added.

Among those other parts include adding another southbound lane to the Veterans Expressway, from north of Cypress Street to north of Independence Parkway. Construction on that section of road will begin in a year from now.

FDOT officials say part of the Tampa Bay Next process includes re-evaluating the location of those express lanes, perhaps moving them from I-275 to I-75.

However, maps displayed Monday still showed express lanes on I-275.

“I just feel like it’s going to happen because FDOT and TBARTA are the only two state-funded plans,” said disappointed Tampa resident (and former city council candidate) Joe Citro.

Later, Citro continued in a Facebook comment: “We applaud FDOT for engaging us in our future. However, we would hope that there were other options besides right of way acquisitions and building super express lanes.”

Citro was pleased that a plan for a boulevard concept is still being shown on FDOT maps which would include the possibility of light rail and some express buses. Nevertheless, that map also said that it wasn’t self-evident the boulevard would noticeably reduce congestion.

Among the most contentious parts of the TBX process was purchasing homes for rights-of-way in Tampa Heights and Seminole Heights, a process that FDOT announced earlier this year they would temporarily stop.

A recent property acquisition in the area prompted some criticism from TBX opponents.

“We were going to finish any deals that were in the works, and then no more right of way was going to be approved,” FDOT spokesperson Kris Carson said.

Two decades ago, FDOT purchased, rehabilitated and moved 64 homes in the Ybor City area. 

FDOT consultant Elaine Illes said the agency had heard from the community, asking if there’s any way to minimize the impact to Tampa neighborhoods affected by the interstate.

To do so, Illes explained, means going back to the 1996 survey to re-examine boundaries and decide whether to “resurvey” the areas.

Eastern Hillsborough County activist George Niemann is suspicious of these meetings (including Tuesday’s event at the Hilton Tampa Downtown).

“You’re going to get more businesspeople, more millennials, more who are going to favor mass transit and rail,” he said.

Like many of those outside the city of Tampa, Niemann is fearful of a creep toward light rail, even though those efforts have gone nowhere in Hillsborough County over the past decade (and beyond). He says he’s distrustful of the newly minted configuration of the Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority (TBARTA), where “transit” literally replaced “transportation” in its title, as well as more talk of regional MPO’s.

“That’s their strategy, and I’m going to fight it,” Niemann said. “We’re getting organized, and we’re going to be fighting it going forward.”

Decision time in contentious House District 58 GOP primary

In eastern Hillsborough County, one of the more contentious Republican primaries in quite some time will soon be over.

Tuesday night, a winner will emerge from the hard-fought House District 58 battle between Yvonne Fry and Lawrence McClure.

HD 58 opened up in August after Plant City Republican Dan Raulerson stepped down for health reasons.

Final financial reports in the race, filed Friday night, show McClure,  a 30-year-old Dover businessman, out-fundraising Fry, with more than $23,000 cash on hand for the campaign’s final days. That includes an additional $11,000 raised by Fry’s separate political committee.

McClure’s last report includes several $1,000 contributions from various established lobbying groups based in Tallahassee, including Southern Strategy Group, Florida Beer Wholesaler Association, and the Florida Cow Political Action Committee.

The Tampa Bay Times also noted several contributions made to McClure’s campaign from allies of House Speaker Richard Corcoran. When asked, McClure said he was unaware of that, but then pivoted, saying that as the most conservative candidate in the race, it only follows he’d receive conservative backing.

An automated phone poll on election eve of 358 registered voters in the district gives McClure an 18-point lead, 54 to 36 percent.

McClure has been running hard as the purest conservative in the race, with some mailers from third-party groups going as far as to label Fry a “liberal” – something clearly intended to be a black mark in a staunch GOP primary.

Flyers contained pointed commentary, accusing Fry of once being supportive of light rail, a bugaboo with Tea Party types (although Fry counters that she’s now against that form of transit, she was once quoted as speaking up for the 2016 Go Hillsborough transportation plan, which included a light rail component).

Among the third-party groups behind mailers attacking Fry include Save Southern Heritage and Hillsborough County Conservatism Counts.

There have even been mailers attacking campaign strategists. One attacked Anthony Pedicini, McClure’s campaign strategist, mailed Thursday by a group called The Florida Leadership Fund. The group’s treasurer later told Florida Politics that he had nothing to do with the mailer.

Fry is the more politically connected of the two, working several years as a civic activist involved in Plant City public affairs. Her information technology consulting company, Lines of Communication, performed work orders for the Hillsborough County State Attorney’s Office (led by her paramour, Mark Ober) as well as other government agencies in Hillsborough County and across the state.

“We are excited about tomorrow,” says Fry. “We have been working hard, talking to voters and spreading our conservative message.  I am looking forward to having the opportunity to represent District 58.”

McClure did not immediatley return a call for comment.

The winner of Tuesday night’s GOP primary advances to the general election for HD 58 Dec. 19. They will face Democrat Jose Vazquez, Libertarian Bryan Zemina and non-party-affiliated candidate Ahmad Saadaldin.

The polls will be open Tuesday 7 a.m. to 7 p.m.

Supervisor of  Elections Craig Latimer announced two last-minute polling place changes Tuesday:

Precinct 753 voters (originally assigned to vote at Plant City Recreation and Parks due to a storm-related closure of the polling place at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Recreation Center) will instead be voting at the Bruton Memorial Library (302 McClendon St. in Plant City).

Precinct 763 voters, assigned to Hope Lutheran Church, will instead be voting at Faith Temple Assembly of God (4240 N Frontage Road).

The elections office learned Monday of extremely long lines for Food for Florida benefits at the Plant City Stadium that will make sights on Park Road inaccessible for voting. Approximately 800 eligible voters will be affected by these changes.

Justin Bean says opponent Gina Driscoll should stick to the issues

Justin Bean is finished talking about his past.

Less than one day after opponent Gina Driscoll called on the 30-year-old businessman to apologize to St. Petersburg voters and release his full criminal record, the St. Pete City Council District 6 candidate blasted her for focusing excessively on his background and not the issues facing the city.

“I want to issue a brief statement in response to my opponent’s continued false attacks,” Bean said Monday. “I have been open about my background and it has been covered, extensively, by numerous media outlets. I will no longer be devoting any time on the campaign trail to this issue.”

Bean then pointed out that Driscoll “sought and failed” to receive endorsements from the Tampa Bay Times, the Pinellas Realtors Organization, and the Suncoast Police Benevolent Association.

“She has only secured the endorsements of partisan organizations and elected officials with partisan political motives,” he added.

In an interview with the Tampa Bay Times after launching his campaign this spring, Bean admitted he had been arrested on a DUI charge.

What he did not acknowledge at the time was his involvement in a 2010 charge of resisting arrest.

Bean and Driscoll are in an intense race to succeed term-limited Karl Nurse. Bean received the most votes in the eight-person primary. His finish was aided, in part, by the Times’ recommendation.

Driscoll narrowly edged Robert Blackmon to finish second, advancing to the Nov. 7 runoff.

“Would Bean have advanced if voters knew he’d hidden his resisting arrest charge?” Driscoll asked in a story reported Sunday by Florida Politics. “Why hasn’t Bean apologized to the voters he wants to represent?”

Apparently, that apology is not going to happen.

“I have, and will continue to be focused on the issues that affect the residents of St. Pete,” Bean said. “Instead of mudslinging, perhaps my opponent and her team would be better served forming a plan to revitalize Midtown.

“Instead of talking about me, she should share her ideas for addressing our affordable housing crisis,” he added. “Instead of sending news releases, maybe she should visit with some residents who are out of work and let them know she has no plan for economic development.”

The Driscoll campaign says Bean is failing to take responsibility for his actions.

“So now Justin thinks that calls for honesty and transparency are partisan and negative? Even worse, his reaction is to insult four City Council members? I think that says a lot about how he would behave on Council,” said Megan Salisbury, Driscoll’s campaign manager. “Once again, Justin Bean refuses to take responsibility for his actions. Between conflicting stories from Justin and his campaign, excuses that insult the voters’ intelligence, and even claiming he forgot about being charged with resisting arrest – no amount of spin is going to earn back the voters trust.

“It’s time for Justin to apologize for his deception and own up to his mistakes,” Salisbury continued.

The Councilmembers Salisbury referred to are Nurse, Darden Rice, Charlie Gerdes and Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, all had endorsed Driscoll.

Both candidates will next face off Tuesday night at 7 p.m. for a candidate’s forum hosted by the Disston Heights Civic Association.

(Photo credit: Kim DeFalco).

Aaron Bean backs Jay Fant in Florida AG race

Jay Fant picked up a much-needed high-profile endorsement in his race for attorney general from fellow Jacksonville Republican Aaron Bean.

“Senator Bean has been a longtime voice for conservative politics in Northeast Florida,” Fant said. “His endorsement is one to be very proud of. We look forward to working with Senator Bean on our conservative platform for years to come.”

Fant has represented Florida’s House District 15 in the Jacksonville area since 2014. In May, immediately after the end of the 2017 regular Legislative Session, he became the first major candidate to file to run in the attorney general’s race.

Since then, Fant has been upstaged by former Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Ashley Moody, who has been endorsed by current AG Pam Bondi. Moody announced earlier Monday that she has raised over a million dollars in her quest for the GOP nomination.

Through the end of August, Fant raised $179,300 in his campaign account, but an advisor says that he has loaned his campaign $750,000 bringing his total campaign donations to $958,000, which will be officially released on Tuesday.

In addition, Fant has more than $50,000 cash-on-hand currently in his political committee, Pledge This Day, though there have been contributions to that account since June.

Ashley Moody has now raised more than $1 million for Attorney General bid

Attorney General hopeful Ashley Moody announced Monday that she has raised more than $1 million in her campaign since announcing her candidacy in June.

That total includes $850,000 into her campaign coffers and an additional $200,000 into Friends of Ashley Moody, her political action committee.

“We’re proud and excited to hit this important fundraising milestone, particularly in the first four months of our campaign. It is a testament to our statewide network of grassroots supporters, community leaders, and well-respected law enforcement professionals who’ve enthusiastically embraced our message of strong, conservative leadership,” the Republican said.

“Our campaign’s success also reflects the voters’ desire for an Attorney General who has real experience prosecuting crimes and upholding the rule of law. We’ll continue to visit communities throughout Florida and share our story and vision for a safer and more secure state.”

The 42-year-old Moody was first elected to serve as a judge in Hillsborough County’s 13th Judicial Circuit when she was 31 years old, making her the youngest judge in Florida. She resigned her seat at the end of April and announced her run for A.G. in June.

Her candidacy was quickly endorsed by Pam Bondi, the woman she hopes to succeed in the AG’s office, and a host of other Republican police sheriffs and county commissioners have flocked to back her run since then.

The other Republican in the race is state Rep. Jay Fant, who has not yet reported his take for September, but had only raised $179,300 at the end of August.

The lone Democrat in the race is Tampa attorney Ryan C. Torrens. He has also not posted September fundraising numbers, but had raised a total $34,318 at the end of August.

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